Part 2: (The Reasons Behind Why) The NFL Network Is Doing A Disservice To NFL History, NFL Films and Fans

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Better Days: Tom Brookshier and Pat Summerall from This Week in Pro Football in 1974. Today’s NFL Films has been reduced to a shell of itself. Former ESPN and current NFL Network Executives Steve Bornstein, Harold Katz along with Commissioner Roger Goodell are producing a product so inferior – and it is not even close – than it did 40 years ago. How many things in this world, with all of today’s technological advances, where money is of no object, can that be said? Photo courtesy NFL FIlms.

Part 1 was in last Saturday’s edition (07/06/13) “NFL Network Does Disservice to NFL History, NFL Films and Their Fans” which focused on the growth of NFL Films from its beginnings. This article is part 2: The degradation of NFL Films since being in the hands of the NFL Network which focuses on how the NFL has botched its network, wiped its feet on NFL Films, NFL Films fans, the history of the NFL, and the NFL Films Company (which the NFL owns) and its employees who very may well be the people most responsible for turning the NFL into the unyielding machine it is today.

The NFL Is an Empire

Steve and Ed Sabol were hugely responsible for the growth and success of the NFL through their company NFL Films which started in 1962. Courtesy bing images and NFL Films.

The NFL has taken on and devoured all competitors in its path: WFL, USFL, Arena League Football, Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, tennis, golf, soccer and every other professional sport in America.  With no other competition in front of the NFL to eliminate, we are witnessing the process of the NFL cannibalizing itself. NFL Films which for all intents and purposes, is one of the main reasons why the NFL overtook baseball as America’s #1 sport in the 1970’s and why the NFL has turned into the conglomerate it is today. Because of NFL Films’ accomplishments, Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2011 and his late son Steve, should be.

It is glaringly obvious the Sabol’s are no longer in charge of NFL Films. Make no mistake, NFL films is still an incredible film making company – but only when they are freed from the chains that enslave them. NFL Films is still responsible for awe-inspiring and compelling programs such as America’s Game, Hard Knocks, A Football Life and NFL’s Greatest Games series. But these shows are few and far between. The problem is not the product or the people at NFL Films; it is the people in control of NFL Films.

NFL Films Tainted By ESPN

ESPN the worldwide leader in “Shtick” and self promotion. Courtesy bing images.

Once you take a look at who is leading this company it all makes: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former ESPN executives Steve Bornstein and Howard Katz. Goodell. ESPN. Okay now I get it, three mammoth and pompous personalities combined together. I have said it before in previous articles, ESPN is the company whose philosophy is disregarding the past because “whatever just happened is the best or the worst-ever”. Other than whatever Emmy winning ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap does, there is little depth to ESPN’s programming. They are a ‘right now’ network uninterested in history or even the truth at times. ESPN appears only interested in throwing as much garbage as fast as they can against the wall and seeing what sticks. They are interested in “shtick”, hype and making money, lots of money. Sounds a lot like what NFL Network has become these days.

NFL Films used to be all about depth in their story telling (Detailed in last weeks story: click here). Everything had a purpose: The slow motion film, the writing, the music, the people, the players, the story. NFL Films weaved it all into poetry winning nearly 100 Emmy’s, producing most of the greatest sports film, inspirational music and sports stories ever seen. But the startling decline of NFL Films now makes sense with the realization that the ESPN mentality has taken over.

Goodell is Ruining More Than Just The Game

Steelers fans are no fan of Roger Goodell. Courtesy bing images.

Under Goodell’s leadership players are fined relentlessly, they are no longer allowed to hit below the knees, above the shoulders, lead with their helmet or leave their feet when making a hit. Fans while still loyal to the game, are soured by these change.s Who knows what Goodell has next for the game—fining players who hit too hard? The quarterback is sacked when tagged by the defense?

Under Goodell, Bornstein and Katz’s leadership, the NFL is also ruining the greatest marketing machine any sport has ever had. NFL Films can no longer freely make the programming they once did. They seldom use slow motion film and whatever little music they use today is indescribable and thus forgettable. NFL Films rarely tells a story anymore instead letting a “wired up” player or coach become the script and thus a one dimensional story line.

NFL Network’s prize show: “The Top 10…….” NFL Films at its worst courtesy of Steve Bornstein and Howard Katz. Photo courtesy bing images and NFL Network.

Bornstein and Katz Borrow From ESPN’s Mindlessness

NFL Network viewers are also treated to the mindless garbage and drivel such as “The Top Ten…” (fill in the blank ) show which must be made up by Bornstein and Katz’s pool boy (who may or may not have a marginal interest in the NFL).    “The Top 10” is one of the only shows that NFL Network can create with any regularity.

In reality the concept comes from ESPN who does a top 10 list every day at the end of ESPN’s Sportscenter which more than likely came from the former ESPN executives Bornstein and  Katz who began junking up ESPN years ago. It is a list that takes probably all of 15 minutes to come up with. The NFL Network’s “Top 10”, like ESPN, puts little thought into the show and most likely the content decisions are made by a  just out of college 24 year old production assistant who has no concept of NFL history.  Ever watch the “Top 10 Diva’s”? “Top 10 Things About Tim Tebow”? “Top 10 End Zone Dances”? The NFL Network schedule is littered with this trash. It is a rarity if any of these shows contain anything that pre-dates the mid 1980’s.  Know what else does not pre-date the 1980’s? ESPN.

NFL Films Employees Distraught Over Changes

Phil Tuckett NFL Films legend on the NFL Network: “Their approach is how much cheap crap can you turn out as quickly as possible so we can stick it on this god-awful network that we’ve created.” Courtesy bing images.

Phil Tuckett, is a name I readily recognize from the NFL Films of my youth as one of their main writers and cameramen. In an interview with Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News in 2011, Tuckett, a 36 year employee and former Vice President of NFL Films (resigned in 2007) said this about the league putting the NFL Network in the hands of former ESPN executives Steve Bornstein and Howard Katz:

"“They’re destroying that company. It’s a cold-blooded killing. Bornstein and Katz are just cold-eyed network killers. They don’t care about what we represented. Their approach is how much cheap crap can you turn out as quickly as possible so we can stick it on this god-awful network that we’ve created.”"

I adamantly and wholeheartedly agree with Phil Tuckett’s blistering statement. This coming from a man who poured his heart and soul into NFL Films and left rather than being part of Bornstein and Katz’s obliteration of the company and what it stood for.

RIP: NFL Films 1962-2003

Tagliabue and Rozelle, two NFL Commissioners who understood the “If it’s not broke don’t fix it” rule. Both let NFL Films do what NFL Films did best. Courtesy bing images.

Bornstein and Katz need to let NFL Films do what they do best and just leave them alone.  Bornstein was handed one of the easiest CEO jobs imaginable but is on the verge of ruining it. “If it is not broke don’t fix it” is a lesson everyone except Goodell, Bernstein and Katz learned in grammar school.  In an interview with the Daily News the founder of NFL Films, Ed Sabol, said from the beginning NFL Films enjoyed almost complete independence from the offices on Park Avenue:

"“It was the secret to success. They left us completely alone. I took it for granted.”"

“They” Sabol was referring to was former NFL Commissioners Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, two men who understood the value of NFL Films whether it made money or not. For 42 years Ed Sabol rightfully took it for granted. He earned that. But any respect for the Sabol’s went out the window when Bornstein and Katz came on-board. The troubling trinity have taken the position that NFL Films is not a money maker so they throttled, torqued, then stripped a well oiled machine reducing it scrap iron for the junkyard.

Steve Bornstein at NFL Network Studios on the way to tell the network scheduler to televise more “Top 10” shows. Courtesy LA Times and bing images.

Is It Really About the Bottom Line?

Goodell, Bornstein and Katz have been conning the public, fans and NFL Films employees with the ‘NFL Films is losing money’ excuse they have been giving about the radical changes to NFL Films. However if you read between the lines you’ll discover it is much more than the bottom line. The disingenuous trio have access to thousands upon thousands of hours of Emmy award winning NFL programming and NFL game footage in their vault, no  make that dungeon, dating all the way back into the 1940’s, that would cost them NOTHING to produce as they are already a finished Emmy award winning product. Therefore if they are cutting costs it only makes sense to show those classic NFL Films doesn’t it?

Instead Bornstein and Katz have misled the good people of NFL Films, their fans and intentionally wrecked what NFL Films established with reruns of reruns of rapidly produced “fast food” rubbish television and meaningless drivel letting their fortune of films and the league’s history rot away in the NFL Films dungeon.